Northeast Seattle has wonderful natural areas where you may see birds and other wildlife, including Magnuson Park on Lake Washington, Meadowbrook Pond at NE 107th Street on the east side of 35th Ave NE, and the Union Bay Natural Area. While the trails in the UBNA are currently closed for construction, another good option for birdwatching is on the adjacent Yesler Swamp Trail which also looks out over Union Bay.
The Union Bay Natural Area is a nature reserve on the north end of Lake Washington’s Union Bay, less than a mile north of the State Route 520 Floating Bridge. For many years, the land served as Seattle’s largest garbage dump. After the landfill was closed in 1966, work began to restore the site to a more natural environment. The land, just east of the University of Washington campus and north of Husky Stadium, is now owned by the university and managed by the College of the Environment.
The entrance point to the Union Bay Natural Area is the Center for Urban Horticulture building. The UBNA is to the west of the building and the recently-completed Yesler Swamp Trail is to the east of the CUH building. The Yesler Swamp is named for Henry Yesler, the Seattle pioneer who brought a sawmill to this site in the 1880s.
On June 22, 2016 the boardwalk at Yesler Swamp was completed by the Washington Conservation Corps, an effort which began in 2014.
The boardwalk has several viewing platforms to look out into the verdant treed area as well as along the water’s edge at Union Bay. Dr. Fred Hoffer of Friends of Yesler Swamp designed the three resting areas and put one next to a plaque honoring his late wife, Dr. Kathleen Kelley.
Professor Bill Bender who is chair of Construction Management at the University of Washington College of Built Environments and is a Yesler Swamp volunteer, helped build the resting areas. The benches are salvaged wood from a large cedar tree which was cut down in the UW Arboretum in 2015.
The Seattle Audubon Society in Wedgwood at 8050 35th Ave NE offers free Neighborhood Bird Walks at sites around Seattle — check out the schedule for upcoming months. On a recent walk with guides Joe Sweeney and Dasha Gudalewicz, our group explored the delights of the just-completed boardwalk in the Yesler Swamp.
As our group walked along we looked and listened intently for the sights and sounds of birds. We watched birds fly across the sky, noting the flight patterns and the shapes of wings and tails which can be seen to help identify the kind of bird.
Standing at the water’s edge on the viewing platform we watched the interplay of birds with the natural environment. Some, like ducks, swam in the water; osprey skimmed over the water and eagles soared above. Sharp-eyed observers in our group spotted birds perched high in the branches of a “snag,” a tree with no leaves.
The peace of the bird-filled environment and the beauty of the trail had a restorative effect as though we had been on a mini-retreat.
Union Bay Watch blogger Larry Hubbell regularly posts his photos and observations of birds.
Are you interested in birding trips beyond Seattle? The Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put together a list of the one hundred best birdwalks all around Washington, Oregon, Idaho and even in Hawaii.